When You Go to Egypt—A Quick Primer

So you’re going to Egypt? Congratulations! You’ll be walking on the land of Pharaohs! Egypt is an excellent destination for anyone who geeks out on the history of ancient civilizations. Ancient Egypt was on the forefront of education, military strategies, medicine, science, architecture and the arts. Evan Andrews shares on History.com that it “created a culture so rich that it has spawned its own field of study.”

In the Bible, we find that Egypt became home to the Israelites for 430 years. Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, became prime minister of Egypt and paved the way for his family to settle and multiply in Goshen.

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Photo illustration from Pinterest

Egypt was also the setting of the Exodus. After being mistreated for 400 years, Moses, a native Hebrew who was raised in the Egyptian palace was prepared and used by God to bring His people out of the land of slavery.

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Image from the Prince of Egypt movie

In the New Testament, Joseph had to take Mary and little Jesus to live in Egypt for a while after he was warned in a dream not to return to Israel because King Herod was looking for Jesus to have Him killed.

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Painting by Edwin Long, Anno Domini, 1883.

Egypt has an estimated population of almost 86 million. It is a largely Muslim country with a very small percentage of Coptic Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Coptic Orthodox.

Just how large is Egypt? Egypt is a transcontinental country, meaning it covers more than one continent. A huge part of Egypt is in Africa but the Sinai area is in Asia.

Now that you’re acquainted with Egypt, here are some FAQs:

What is the climate like?

It’s generally warm and dry during the day but gets really cold in the evening, just like any desert country.

What should I bring and what should I wear?

Since Egypt is a largely Muslim country, part of respecting their culture and beliefs is to dress modestly. As such, do not go walking around and visiting their tourist sites dressed in skimpy clothing–no shorts, no spaghetti straps, tank tops or anything that exposes too much skin. Depending on what time of the year you plan to go, it would be helpful to bring a windbreaker or a light sweater. Since there’s a lot of walking involved, jeans, cargo pants and sneakers would be most comfortable. Also bring a scarf which you can use to shield your head or cover your face in case it gets too windy and the sand flies up from the ground.

Sunglasses are a definite must-have to shade your eyes, plus an umbrella and sunblock to protect your skin. Bring a reusable water bottle that you can refill with clean water when you get back to your hotel or when you stop by restaurants. .

Is it better to go there alone or with a group? Is it safe?

I went with a tour group. I know that it would be an entirely different experience to go there alone and plan my itinerary. I might decide to do that once I’m done ticking off the other countries on my list, so that would probably take a while.

Given my limited knowledge of Arabic, I think that it’s better to go with a group and to also find a local guide. Their history is so rich, I think your trip would be more meaningful if you have a licensed and information-savvy tour guide who can answer your questions and give you your fill of Ancient Egyptian history. Having a licensed guide will also protect you from over-charging vendors and even extortionists who may prey on tourists.

Where can I find good licensed Egyptian tour guides?

Our tour guides were from Meryland Tours. I was very pleased with Dr. Ashraf Moussa (his nickname is Moses) who communicated well in English and was very much in touch with current events. He is knowledgeable in history and culture, naturally funny and kindly urged us to get going specially when we were already spending too much time in our mini photo shoots! I know he wanted us to cover as many places as we could.

Marco on the other hand, assisted us as soon as we landed at the Cairo Airport. He also took us through the midnight trek to Mt. Sinai and brought us to the border at Taba where we were to enter Israel from Egypt.

What are the must-see places?

A trip to Egypt is obviously not complete if you don’t stop by the Pyramids and the Sphinx (he is so going to visit you in your dreams haha). We were only in Egypt for three days so we were not able to go to Karnak, The Luxor Temple, Abu Simbel, Philae and Alexandria, among others.

Our first stop from the airport was the Egyptian Museum, which by the way is so huge, you can’t go through all the antiquities in just one day. Moses said that we needed three whole days to go through all the halls! They have an extensive collection of personal items and furniture found in tombs, clothing, armor, sarcophagi, mummies, ancient condoms, accessories and even bread! Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside the museums, so no selfies, no photographs of the artifacts. You truly must go and just experience it for yourself.

What kind of money should I bring?

US Dollars are accepted almost anywhere in Egypt but make sure you have a lot of smaller bills. If you’re one of those travelers who like keeping foreign currency as travel souvenirs, then have a few dollars exchanged for Egyptian pounds and coins. Bottled water (believe me, you need it!) costs $1-2 per piece and these are available at small stores or from your bus operator.


Are you all set and ready to walk like an Egyptian? If you have any other questions, you can shoot me an email at ingrid[at]ingridnieto.com.

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Souvenirs from Egypt, Israel and Jordan

Souvenirs are a must for every traveler. In the all the places I’ve been to, I’ve purchased magnets, accessories and local products that are unique to the place. Whenever I feel the urge to over-spend, I tell myself two things: baggage limit and storage. When I went to Egypt, I knew that I had to get papyrus paper. Of course in my head I was thinking it’s light, it’s thin, it can easily fit into one of my flat luggage pockets. When I got to the shop, I was enticed to take home not just plain papyrus but those with Egyptian hand-painted illustrations.
Papyrus Paintings

You can’t just slip paintings like that into pockets right? The good thing is, Golden Eagle Papyrus has a special way of storing the painting—you roll up the papyrus paper, put it in a circular cardboard case and slip it into your bag.
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My friends know that I am such a sucker for aromatherapy. Lavender and mint are my favorite essential oils because they give off such a clean, calming scent that puts me to sleep easily. Purchasing these oils weren’t part of my original plan. I walked into the oil shop, listened to the demonstration and like most of my companions, I walked out of the store with these bottles:
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SHOPPING IN ISRAEL
Since we were to spend five days in Israel, I expected to spend more on souvenirs. When we took a dip in the Dead Sea, I thought “Maybe I should gather some of the mud and take it home!” I was told by our travel coordinator Tita Mina that someone from the previous Holy Land trip did take some of the mud but they weren’t even done with the trip when it started to stink. As tempting as it is to take the free-flowing Dead Sea mud, we have to first learn how to handle and preserve it correctly. So really, Ahava products are the closest you can get. They’re manufactured in Israel and they’re much cheaper too.

Free flowing Dead Sea mud

Free flowing Dead Sea mud

Of course I had to try it on. This is one Israel experience I won't forget! I had the mask on for about 15-20 minutes (we only had an hour to spend). My skin was baby-smooth and lovely to touch when I washed it off! Imagine if I left it on for about 30 minutes!

Of course I had to try it on. This is one Israel experience I won’t forget! I had the mask on for about 15-20 minutes (we only had an hour to spend). My skin was baby-smooth and lovely to touch when I washed it off! Imagine if I left it on for 30.

Our first legit souvenir stop was at the Nissan Brothers Store in Bethlehem. They had so much to choose from—olive wood Bibles, olive wood carvings and sculptures, crosses, jewelry and gemstones, holy water, holy oil, holy soil, olive oil products, Dead Sea Salt products, the list goes on and on.
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Eilat Stone pendants

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Israelis usually press their own olive oil right in the comfort of their own home.

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Anointing Oil in different scents. $6.99 a box

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Olive wood Bible

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The Olive wood Bible in Spanish

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Miniature model of the Temple

We went to a lot of tourist spots after that, of course there were small stores selling souvenirs but they pretty much carried the same items found at the Nissan Brothers Store.

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That evening, my companions discovered the shops at the lobby of the Hotel Rimonim. They were fixated on the jewelry being sold because the prices were remarkably cheaper than the other places we’ve been to. Other than jewelry, I saw more interesting shirts, camel leather products, sculptures, figurines, magnets and even bags.
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I bought camel leather wallets for my dad and brother and cross necklaces for me and my Lola.

I also got myself a Star of David pendant from a store in Nazareth, Jerusalem pouches from a small stall outside Cana (the place where Jesus turned water into wine for a wedding celebration) and an Eliat stone ring at Galilee.

The Star of David is a symbol of Judaism. The six-pointed star points to God as David's True Shield.

The Star of David is a symbol of Judaism. The six-pointed star points to God as David’s True Shield.

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EILAT STONE (The King Solomon Stone) is the national stone of Israel.

EILAT STONE (The King Solomon Stone) is the national stone of Israel. “Both names are derived from its notable mining location close to the Red Sea–King Solomon’s copper mine near the city of Eilat. A natural composite of the minerals malachite, turquoise, azurite, and chrysocolla, its flamboyant colour ranges from turquoise to deep green and has the striking characteristic of no two being alike.”

Now let’s proceed to JORDAN.

Sand bottle art

Sand bottle art

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Also from the Dead Sea!

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Pendants, pendants, lots of pendants

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Jordan for me was much more festive and colorful. Jordan is well-known for their mosaic art. We visited the mosaic factory in Madaba where we saw how the artists carefully arranged the colorful tiles into beautiful pieces.

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I was tempted to purchase some mosaic artwork but since Jordan was our last country, I was getting more worried about my baggage limit. Mind you, the mosaic pieces are heavy. Every night, when we’d get to the hotel, my roommate Lizza and I would unpack and re-arrange our luggage just to make sure everything still fits in.

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The Tree of Life Mosaic Art (I think this was being sold for $750)

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Here are the other items I got from Jordan:

Pashmina scarves from a Bedouin at Petra
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Myrrh smells like Christmas ($7)
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Frankincense smells like a Cathedral ($7)
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Do you think I purchased too little or too much? If you were to visit these countries, what do you think you’d spend a lot on?
Let me know on the comment box below. Thank you for reading!

HOLY LAND 2014: Crossing the border from Egypt to Israel

Our stay in Egypt seemed to go by so fast. I know we were able to visit a good number of touristy places but there is so much more to explore. Our tour guide Moses told us that the new Egyptian Museum would open next year and I’m thinking I should definitely go back. There are other places to see like Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor and Joseph’s Storehouses.

After a 10-hour bus ride, our group arrived at the Egypt land port where we had to cross the border to Israel. Marco, our tour guide number 2 warned us to not take photos or videos at the border because they were very strict. Once you get off the bus, it’s best that you find your luggage right away or an attendant will take it for you and you have to pay him $5. Call me kuripot but I didn’t want to! Imagine, an attendant will take your luggage, put it on a cart along with the others and he gets $5 from each of you? I can handle my luggage, thank you very much!

When you get to the land port, there’s a security check. It’s best to pull out your travel documents and passport and bring them with you as you pass through the scanner. We filled out a small sheet and had our passports stamped and we were out of Taba in less than an hour. The Israel land port is another story. It’s very memorable for me because THEY TOOK MY PASSPORT! I remember following the rules–I didn’t horse around, I didn’t even take photos or videos! When it was my turn to show my passport, the female immigration officer asked me if I spoke English and I said “Yes.” After that, she took my passport and said they have to hold it for security reasons. I thought it was a routine thing initially, but when I saw the rest of my tour group still had their passports with them, my heart started pounding so fast. Continue reading

HOLY LAND 2014: Cairo, Egypt

We were on the go as soon as we landed in Egypt! After meeting our tour guide Moses (no joke, that’s his real name), we went off to the Egyptian Museum which houses many artefacts from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. According to Moses, it would take us three days to go through all of the sections in the museum, so we just went through the highlights as we were pressed for time. 

Photography isn’t allowed inside the museum. To make sure, we all had to deposit our cameras and smartphones. 

 Two pretty birds hanging out in the pond fronting the museum

 

 

 
From the museum, stopped by the Golden Papyrus Shop to learn how papyrus paper is made.

 


This is Moses our tour guide with one of the staff from Golden Papyrus

 After the papyrus strips are laid out and “woven” together…

 …they go into this pressing machine to squeeze out excess water.

It is then laid out to dry. Papyrus paper is very sturdy and can withstand getting soaked in water even after it is dried out.

While there are street vendors that claim to sell papyrus paintings for $1-$5, be warned that these are not authentic. According to our tour group head, these are usually made with just banana leaves. I bought three paintings from the shop and even had one inscribed with the names of my family members in hieroglyphs.